Pretty much spoiler-free, maybe a couple minor things. But c’mon, if you’re reading this, it very likely you’ve seen it already.
Nutshell: A good, fun movie, well worth the $8 and the couple hours of your time. If you are expecting another episode in the Star Wars universe, like we all hoped for in the prequels and were crushingly disappointed, then you’ll be very happy. I’m going to see it at least once more before it leaves the theaters, and pick it up on DVD first chance I get.
Like many people, I have seen the films from the original trilogy about 100 times each. I’m a little rusty now, but there were times when I could recite the dialogue – all of it – from memory. So, yea, I’m a fan. Take that into consideration.
First, let’s recap the many things they got right. Star Wars gets its power from being a moral epic – it’s about people not only discovering who they are, but accepting the adventure being who they are presents to them. This moral character – the sense 0f *obligation* felt by the heroes – is what makes Star Wars more than just a bunch of spacemen blowing stuff up (or milling around discussing politics, or whatever they were doing in the prequels). The successes of the characters are moral victories, their falls moral falls. This depth turns their successes and failures into triumphs and tragedies. We have to know they could fail; we have to believe that others (Vader, Ren) have failed when presented with similar challenges. That’s why it’s key that Rey, Finn and even Han don’t want to follow the path laid out for them. That they do follow it – with their character flaws intact – is how what might otherwise be a parade of CGI explosions becomes epic.
The makers of this movie clearly understand this, and the other things about the original trilogy that people loved: the flawed and funny characters whose self-knowledge unfolds with the action, their love and willingness to sacrifice for each other, the witty banter, a clearly laid out idea of right and wrong, the sense of epic adventure, the huge scale – all contribute to the deep emotional gratification we all felt with the first trilogy. In this regard, the Force has indeed awakened – we find characters to love, both new and old, appropriately awe-inspiring visuals, good and stylistically consistent dialogue, epic fights, heroism, escapes – great fun.
We also do *not* have goofy animals introduced as comic relief, annoying characters dredged up from some unholy abyss in Lucas’s reptilian mind, nor lines about how much our hero hates sand. No trade routes or commercial treaties are discussed. Hairstyles and clothing are confined to the limits of earthly physics.
The CGI is generally made to serve the story. The dogfights are white-knuckle thrill rides. Things blowed up real good. It’s also a relief and departure from the prequels that the key characters who will need to carry scenes are played by actors who can actually act. (1)
The Force Awakens is at its best at the beginning. The first part of the movie during which Rey and Finn are introduced and the conflict set up is excellent in just about every way: visuals, acting, dialogue, story. Shout out to the desert planet Rakku, home to the dazzlingly huge and steam-punkish wreckage of an Imperial Fleet. Awesome. The whole movie has that scuffed-up look we all loved from the original series.
The movie was a little more hit or miss for me once the original cast members are introduced. It was still good, just not quite as good. The key drawback is just how derivative it seemed. I get that we’re just setting the table here, but I wished they’d had found a better, more original way to set it. Also, and I appear to be in a minority on this, I though Poe was a bit of cipher – He keeps the pedals moving while escaping with Finn, but I for one forgot about him as soon as he was off screen.
The First Order heavies are perfectly adequate, but nothing like Darth Vader. Remember the first time the massive 6’5″ Prowse strides into a scene masked and wrapped in black, with James Earl ‘The Voice of God’ Jones’ menacing words issuing forth? THAT’s a villain! And sets an impossibly high standard. But it is the standard, and Ren, Snokes and Hux just ain’t got it. They’re OK. Captain Phasma manages, in her brief time on screen, manages to ooze menace and power – a nice trick when you never see her face. But that’s all she does in this movie.
So, yea, go check it out. Now on to some real nit-picky stuff:
Rey rocks the joint, to be sure. If I have a complaint, minor as it is, it is the suspension of disbelief required to accept that a pretty young thing like Rey could really survive on her own in such an environment, full of shady characters and under the law of the jungle, evidently – you’d think she’d be kidnapped and sold to the local Jabba-equivalent within the first 5 minutes she was on her own. Maybe there’s a back story. Sure, she ends up being the quickest-study bad-ass Jedi in history – but not at first. Not when she was 12.
I was not bothered by the obvious physical impossibility of Rey matching strength with Ren in the same way I wasn’t bothered by the absurdity of Luke fighting off Vader, who is about twice his size, because the Force. It’s not as stupid as Black Widow, who is not assumed to have magical powers, demonstrating, I suppose, that if one has enough skill, basic physics no longer apply. I’ve got to wonder, however, about the wisdom of having little girls watch women beat up men, especially now days, where there’s less chance they will learn the truth on the playground as they would have in earlier times. Up until around maybe 5th grade, an aggressive enough girl very well might fight off the boys. After that, not so much, as they would quickly learn if they were to try. It is convenient for men to assume a woman can physically defend herself – sure lets us them off the hook. Yet Rey acting in a manner that would get any non-Jedi woman beaten up if not worse is one of the most praised aspects of this movie. It’s all cool, as long as we never forget that it’s all fantasy.
Don’t even try to make sense out of the military or political stuff – it has never made any sense in any of the movies. Neither should one trouble oneself about the economics of a single woman taking a few stray parts at a time off city-sized wrecks to trade for food, any more than one should wonder how, exactly, a moisture-farmer makes a living. Nor about how there is enough atmospheric oxygen to breath on a planet with no evident plant life or oceans, anymore than one should wonder how Naboo can have a liquid center, gravity working as it does. Just go with it.
- Let’s be honest – love Mark Hamill, but – nah. Generously, he got better as the series wore on, and he (and the directors) never let the wheels fall off. But that’s it. And we shall not mention He Who Shall Not Be Mentioned, nor his too cute and clever by half younger mop-top version.